U.N. force strikes at Somali warlord U.S. troops, planes join in reprisal for 23 peacekeepers killed in ambush

June 12, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- U.N. forces in Somalia -- including 1,200 U.S. soldiers and heavily armed AC-130H flying gunships -- attacked strongholds of Somalian warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid today in retaliation for the ambush-killing last week of 23 Pakistani peacekeeping troops.

The U.N. attack, coordinated by American and United Nations commanders in the area, concentrated on blowing up weapons compounds and warehouses belonging to General Aidid and taking over a Mogadishu radio station that he has been using to promote opposition to U.N. forces, the Pentagon said in Washington.

The Pentagon had no immediate assessment of the operation's effectiveness.

A Pentagon official said that the operation was targeting at least five specific sites: General Aidid's radio station, his command quarters and several weapons caches.

A second phase of the operation involved ground units ordered to move in to secure certain areas of the city and search for additional weapons caches. The Pentagon official declined to specify exactly how many troops might participate in the ground operation.

"The main aim is to restore security so we can continue the humanitarian operation," the official said.

Asked whether General Aidid himself would be a target of the operation, the Pentagon official declined to respond specifically, pointing out that the United Nations intends to call for "the detention of Aidid and four of his henchmen."

Earlier in the day, the United States had ordered the assault carrier Wasp, accompanied by three amphibious warfare ships and carrying 2,200 Marines, to leave a training exercise near Kuwait and steam to the Straits of Hormuz to stand by if needed in Somalia.

In a clear signal that the attack was imminent, the United Nations closed Mogadishu airport to all non-U.N. traffic -- until further notice -- at 5 p.m. EDT yesterday and stopped U.N. relief convoys and construction projects.

U.S. officials said that the major purpose of the attack was to punish General Aidid, who was believed to have ordered the ambush that killed the Pakistani forces, and to serve notice to other clan leaders that the United Nations will not tolerate further violence.

The United Nations said, in a statement from New York, that the operation was authorized by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in support of a Security Council resolution.

Clinton administration strategists have been fearful that failure by the United Nations to retaliate for last week's ambush would irreparably damage the credibility of the peacekeeping operation and of similar U.N. ventures around the globe.

In line with current U.S. military doctrine, the rapid U.N. action was overwhelming,effectively crippling General Aidid as a political force.

Forays by ground troops

Pentagon officials, in constant touch with the U.S. and U.N. forces in Somalia, said that the attack began at 9 p.m. EDT -- 4 a.m. in Mogadishu -- with sorties by two AC-130H "Spectre" fixed-wing gunships, followed by forays by ground troops. The action was carried live worldwide by Cable News Network and appeared to be completed an hour and a half later.

Last night's action came amid an atmosphere of increasing violence in the Somalian capital.

Following a Security Council call for a "strong response" to the assault on the Pakistanis, U.N. forces have been preparing for the attack for days.

U.S. troops on duty with the multinational force were brought back from outlying areas earlier this week to patrol the streets and prevent looting and vandalism.

Last week's ambush of Pakistani troops marked one of the bloodiestsuch incidents in U.N. history. By the time it was over, 23 Pakistani soldiers had been killed and 59 others wounded, including three Americans.

The U.N. Security Council ordered the perpetrators apprehended.

The U.N. forces conducting the attack today included 1,200 members of the U.S. quick-response force, which consists of members of the 10th Mountain light infantry battalion that has been on call in Somalia for the last two months.

Of the four AC-130H gunships,sent to neighboring Djibouti earlier this week, two took part in the attack and two were held in reserve.

The "Spectre" can deliver devastating firepower. The aircraft, a modified C-130 cargo plane, carries a 105-mm gun, a 40-mm and two 20-mm rapid-fire cannon and two 7.62-mm mini-guns.

Potent weapons

They are regarded as one of the most potent weapons for such operations.

Besides the quick-response force, the U.N. contingent includes about 3,000 other Americans who mainly provide logistics support and some 15,500 troops from other nations, including Frenchmen, Belgians, Pakistanis and Turks.

Of the 18,500 foreign troops in Somalia, about 10,000 to 11,000 are now in Mogadishu. Four French armored personnel carriers arrived in Mogadishu from Baidoa earlier this week. And the U.N. has a dozen tanks on hand to help police the area.

The USS Wasp left Kuwait abruptly yesterday with its 2,200 Marines and accompanying aircraft, but officials said that the amphibious ready group would not even reach the coast of Somalia until sometime this weekend.

Besides the Wasp, it includes the landing ships Nashville and Barnstable County and the amphibious cargo ship El Paso.

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